Article - Issue 31, June 2007

Lloyd's Register Educational Trust Lecture 2007

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Cover of the 2007 Lloyd's Register Lecture brochure

Cover of the 2007 Lloyd's Register Lecture brochure

This year’s lecture, ‘Carpe Diem: the Dangers of Risk Aversion’ was given by Professor Roderick Smith FREng ScD FIMechE on 29 May 2007. Professor Smith holds a Royal Academy of Engineering Research Chair at Imperial College London. His main area of research interest has been the fatigue of materials, but in recent years he has focused on railway engineering, transport and energy issues.

The Chair of this year’s Lloyd’s Register Educational Trust lecture was Professor Wendy Hall CBE, the Academy’s Senior Vice President. The Royal Society in Carlton House Terrace was the venue for 200 people to hear from the Academy Fellow who has been involved in the investigation of many accidents, including the Hillsborough football stadium disaster and highly publicised railway accidents.

Professor Smith’s concerns, articulated during his lecture, are that the UK has developed a culture of risk aversion. This is detrimental to running, developing and improving services. Risk can never be scaled down to zero, but should be managed and reduced to acceptable levels, commensurate with the benefits gained.

Professor Smith outlined many examples where the perception of risk outweighed the actual likelihood of danger. He talked of the management, the cost and the media representation of risk. He expressed concerns at the effect of privatisation on research and the need for short term returns which hampered infrastructure investment.

He felt that on the larger scale, there was an urgent need to discuss individuals’ and governments’ attitudes to risk in the funding of health care, in the provision of infrastructure, and of society’s reaction to global threats such as terrorism, starvation and global warming. He summed up by saying that it is the role of the scientific community to measure and estimate risks and to present this information as clearly as possible, with warnings about uncertainty. It is then up to society as a whole, to determine what is tolerable and acceptable based on a range of social, political, cultural and economic considerations.

Further reference

A booklet covering the subjects covered in this year’s Lloyd’s Register Educational Trust lecture, can be found at www.raeng.org.uk/Lloyds2007

Lloyds Register Educational Trust

The Lloyd's Register Educational Trust, an independent charity wholly funded by the risk management organisation the Lloyd's Register Group, supports advances in engineering, science and technology education, training and research worldwide for the public benefit. The Lloyd's Register Educational Trust has agreed to fund an annual lecture for the next three years.

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